How Florida Utilities Are Raising Rates and Raising Sea Levels
Published May 15, 2023
Floridians are seeing electricity bills climb, and that's directly tied to how utilities are doubling down on climate-wrecking fossil fuels.
Electricity, like all utilities, is a human right. We depend on it to keep the lights on, use essential technology, and keep us cool during the growing number of extreme heat days. But as the days heat up, more Florida families can’t afford to reach for the air conditioning. Sky-high power bills make it impossible for many Floridians to stay safe and access basic needs.
We need to tackle this affordability crisis at its sources: fossil fuels and corporate greed. In Florida, electricity customers foot the cost of everything, and volatile fossil fuel prices let utilities like Tampa Electric Company (TECO) push electricity rates to outrageous new heights.
These utilities could invest in more affordable clean energy, which would also help avert climate catastrophe. But instead, state regulators and legislators have allowed them to invest in expensive fossil fuels — and make Florida families pay the costs.
That’s why Food & Water Watch is working to hold Florida lawmakers accountable for fueling the rate crisis. We’re fighting for the clean energy we need to save our planet and our families.
Floridians Face an Energy Affordability Crisis
Fuel costs account for one-third of Florida electricity bills, and the cost of those fuels has tripled since 2020. Year after year, the state’s power companies have raised electricity rates for customers as the costs of fuel rise.
In 2023, Floridians have faced massive jumps in their energy bills. In a single year, the average TECO customer saw their annual electricity costs rise by $492.
We can blame these rate hikes on laws that allow utilities to pass all of their costs to customers. And that includes laws that guarantee utilities’ profits. As private companies, utilities’ primary job isn’t to serve customers — it’s to deliver as much cash as possible to their shareholders.
While TECO and other Florida utilities rake in profits, many customers must choose between keeping the lights on or paying for food, rent, and medicine. In Hillsborough County, some residents spend over 12% of their income on electricity bills. That energy burden (the amount of income going to bills) is five times the national average.
Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous households, renters, older people, and people living in multifamily buildings all face disproportionately high energy burdens. Renters and low-income folks can’t as easily access strategies to lower their energy bills, like installing energy-efficient appliances and insulation.
What’s worse, energy burdens will continue to climb as Florida sees more climate-fuelled disasters and extreme heat.
Fossil Fuels Add Fuel to the Energy Bill Fire
Florida utilities blame the most recent rate hikes on climate-fuelled disasters and the price of natural gas. But rather than help fight climate change and reduce their reliance on the unpredictable gas market, they’re doubling down on fossil fuels — no matter the cost.
To avoid interference and customer backlash, utilities often push fossil fuel projects piece by piece. “Small scale” projects are more readily approved, although they’re part of much larger plans to expand fossil fuel infrastructure.
For instance, TECO and Florida Gas Transmissions recently extended a stretch of pipeline through Hillsborough County. Though Food & Water Watch and our allies slowed the project, it was approved this March. TECO and Florida Gas Transmissions will “recover” the cost of the project — in the millions of dollars — through their customers’ electricity bills.
TECO has taken on other expensive fossil fuel projects. For example, the “modernization” of Big Bend Power Station converted the state’s largest coal-powered plant to gas.
Despite immense public backlash, the DeSantis administration approved the project in 2019, locking the region into another 30 years of fossil fuels. In the long run, customers will foot the bill for this decision to extend the use of fracked gas.
TECO is also investing in a carbon capture and storage project at its Polk Power Station. But efforts to develop carbon capture technology have already wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on failed projects.
Florida utilities are locking in decades of fossil fuel reliance and climate chaos for the promise of quick profits.
State Regulators Now Serve Energy Companies, Not the Public
On paper, state regulators should ensure that Florida power companies can’t wreak havoc on the climate or on customers’ wallets. They should be considering public interest when approving things like utility plans and rate hikes. And they have the power to ensure that utility companies invest in low-cost, low-risk renewables.
But for the past few years, the state agency charged with regulating utilities — the Public Service Commission (PSC) — has only served the interests of utilities.
Energy companies have used lobbying and campaign contributions to drive the PSC and the state legislature to limit the public’s voice in decisions. As a result, the PSC has approved some of the largest rate hike requests in Florida history.
Food & Water Watch Is Building Power to Combat Unsustainable Rates
We’re working in Hillsborough County to pass policies that will fight rate hikes by phasing out fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, and investing in resiliency projects. We’re also making sure that residents can make their voices heard in the decisions directly impacting them.
In recent years, wonky and inaccessible processes have excluded public voice in utility issues. TECO’s Hillsborough County customers would have to drive four hours one way to speak for three minutes at a PSC rate hike hearing in Tallahassee — and most folks don’t even know these hearings are happening.
That is unacceptable. So, in April we helped Hillsborough residents to call on the County to step in against rate hikes and help residents better engage with these PSC meetings. Soon after, the County Commission sent a request to the PSC for locally held rate hike hearings.
But we believe the County must go even further and do everything in its power to ensure energy companies lower rates. That includes passing legislation that mandates a plan to reach 100% renewable energy and stops the buildout of new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Transitioning Hillsborough to renewables would fend off TECO’s fossil fuel plans and related rate hikes. It would help fight the climate crisis and protect residents from unaffordable energy bills. And, it would set a precedent in Florida and beyond that puts families before corporations and their shareholders.
Floridians: Tell your elected officials to stop rate hikes!
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